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Brogan: Keep Up Push for State College Baccalaureates

Florida’s community colleges – now known as the state college system – must continue to be tapped for bachelor’s degrees because the demand simply can’t be met by the universities, the new chancellor of the state university system says.

In a wide-ranging interview with The News Service of Florida, new chancellor Frank Brogan said the system of higher education in the state developed without coordination – with little or no regard to the state’s broader needs for certain programs – and said he supported continuing to move toward a more integrated system with a broadened role for community colleges.

“What we're trying to do now that the horse is out of the barn is see if can we organize what we have and make better decisions going forward,” Brogan said, noting a need to consider state and regional needs for educated workers.

Brogan said he believes the 11 universities are strong, but they cannot meet the state's demand for baccalaureate degree programs. And the cost of building new universities is enormous. The obvious choice is for the community colleges to offer new programs, Brogan said.

“It's a wonderful and growing state university system, but I don't believe we have the time to create, from a blank slate, additional state universities to meet this ongoing baccalaureate need,” he said in the interview last week.

The change has been underway for a few years.

In January 2005, Florida's community colleges offered a total of 19 baccalaureate degrees. Now, there are 90 bachelor degree programs at what is being dubbed Florida's state college system.

The whole situation, however, may be frozen by economic realities. The Legislature has put a temporary hold on colleges' abilities to propose new programs because of state budget constraints. Current programs will continue to be funded, but no new proposals will gain funding until the Legislature reverses the policy. So far, there’s been no indication from lawmakers as to whether that may be possible in the coming year.

Still, the Florida Board of Governors and the State Board of Education are slated to meet jointly in Palm Beach this November for the first time. Leaders from Prek-12, the college system and the university system have all stated the need for the three areas of education to work together. The meeting will gather all the players in the room to try to figure out how to produce more degrees in critical areas such as education, nursing or life sciences.

In 2005, the Florida Department of Education released a policy paper on the need for more baccalaureate degrees in the state, and said the state was ranked 46 out of 50 states in producing them.

“The demand for new teachers, particularly in exceptional education, secondary math and science is by far outpacing the ability of Florida’s state and private universities and colleges to keep up with the need,” the report read.

In response, many community colleges began proposing bachelor degree programs at their institutions. Education and nursing are the most popular programs so far.

Some university system leaders balked at first, wondering how the new state colleges would affect the 11 public universities. But there seems to be a developing consensus of the wisdom of a more unified system.

“There will certainly have to be a collaborative approach between the community colleges, state colleges and universities,” said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, who chairs the Senate's Higher Education budget writing committee. “We're so low in the number of degrees, that it's imperative that we do what we can.”

In 2007-08, the state university system awarded 68,400 degrees. The state's private colleges gave out 16,748 and the state college system tacked on 697 more.

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